Fulton 4-5 Learning Center
In 2002, when fifth-grade science teacher Martha McLeod arrived at Fulton 4–5 Learning Center, the school grounds were barren and desolate. Even with no budget for a school garden, Mrs. McLeod was determined to enrich the campus environment for not only the students and staff, but for the community and wildlife, too.
To raise money to purchase native plants, which act as a source of nectar, berries, and habitat for wildlife, Fulton 4–5 Learning Center started an aluminum can recycling program at the campus of approximately 500 students. The recycling program has since expanded to include brass, copper, and other metals. As an incentive to bring recyclables, participating students get to babysit one of the animals of their choice from the science lab. With parental permission, students who bring in recyclable materials can take home a guinea pig, gerbil, hamster, turtle, mouse, rat, snake, or chick for the weekend. Each animal leaves campus with a care package including a cage, care instructions, and food. This incentive has worked: during the 2009–2010 school year, students brought in more than 6,700 pounds of aluminum, brass, and copper, and more than 3,000 pounds of scrap steel.
Using the funds earned from recycling, the staff and students have transformed the formerly bleak school landscape into a mecca of flourishing flora and fauna. The garden attracts so many hummingbirds that the school has been added as a stop on the community’s Hummingbird Home Tour. The campus gardens have also been included on the Hidden Garden Tour sponsored by the local Texas Master Gardener chapter and certified as official wildlife habitats and wildscapes by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the National Wildlife Federation.
Students not only earn the financial support for the gardens through recycling, they plant, pull weeds, haul and add mulch,and act as tour guides during the Hummingbird Home and Hidden Garden tours. Funding from the successful metal recycling program has recently allowed the school to add new vegetable gardens and create chicken gardens on campus. Students gather the eggs and vegetables and accompany Mrs. McLeod to sell them at the local Farmer’s Market. The proceeds are used to further expand and improve the gardens, which now stand ready for future gardeners, recyclers, and innovative Texans.